Don't take no when you knock on journalism's door

Being a journalist isn’t about getting trained up, and then
deciding where you’d like to work. It’s about having an ambition from
the start, a reason for being a journalist.
If you’re single-minded, and have some talent,
you can achieve what you want to achieve, whether or not you get your
100wpm shorthand and have a fancy NCTJ certificate.
When I started out I wanted to work for The
Guardian, then The Sun, and then Empire. I ended up, however on the
less illustrious Farnham Herald.
With hindsight, I could probably have worked for
any of the three publications I hankered after, if only I’d known how
the system worked.
My advice for any young journalist is to find out
how that system works, and decide where you’d like to be at the end of
your career and then do everything you can to achieve that. Offer
yourself as work experience, send off speculative stories, do some
freelance and, most of all, persevere.
Paul Merrill
editor Zoo Weekly
IT sounds simple, but you’d be
surprised how many would-be journalists have to be told. Read at least
one daily newspaper seven days a week. Look at as many publications as
you can, listen to Five Live, watch the news. Take an interest in your
local paper and any community websites.
If you’re planning to go to university, think
hard about whether or not you want to apply for a journalism or media
studies course. There are many good degree options, but you will also
need to stand out from the crowd when it eventually comes to getting a
job. Try to get work experience placements wherever you can.
I was lucky enough to know exactly what I wanted
to do in life, so I turned down places at university to embark on a
one-year pre-entry NCTJ course at Darlington College of Technology.
That was followed by over two years of training on local weekly papers.
Whatever path you choose, you have to be very
determined, take lots of knocks and be totally dedicated to the task in
hand. It can be one of the best jobs in the world.
Ian Wylie
London Editor & TV Editor
Manchester Evening News
Get involved in your student
newspaper at university. That way you’ll learn to write news stories
and features. After graduation, enrol on a course to teach you
speedwriting, media law, and more about journalism. Make sure the
course is NCTJ approved.
Try to find out where students from the college
end up before signing up – are they working on newspapers, in new
media, or broadcasting or are they flipping burgers? Talk to some of
these former students to discover their views on the course.
Fix up as much work experience as possible. And
don’t expect much when you arrive for your first stint of working for
no pay. The staff on newspapers and television companies may not have
much time for you. Don’t sit there and expect to be given work. Look
for the person in the office who needs a hand. Make friends with them
and think up ways to help even if it’s only making the tea.
Lucy Hodges
Education Features Editor, The Independent
When I was training to be a
reporter in Cardiff more than twenty years ago, a colleague told me:
“you’ll never make a journalist.” It was a brutal prediction, but also
– I thought at the time – probably an accurate one. I was quiet and not
terribly confident.
What I’ve learned since is that all sorts of
people make good reporters – introverts and extroverts, those with big
mouths and those who say very little. In fact, sometimes it’s important
for reporters to keep quiet – after all, they’re supposed to be
listeners rather than talkers.
Most of all, potential journalists need to be
persistent: never take no for an answer, either when you’re trying to
get a job, or when you’ve got one and you’re trying to get an interview
or a story. The very best journalists are relentlessly dogged and
I was rejected many times, including on four
occasions when I applied to the BBC after university for their various
At the time it broke my heart, but you have to
pick yourself up and say: ‘I’ll show them’. I hope I have! Also: learn
from other people. Read, watch or listen to reporters whose style you
admire, and work out what’s good about it without copying it. Develop
your own way of writing and reporting, but – rather like a musician –
absorb other influences.
It’s a great way to earn a living: every day is
different, and every hour of every day is different. At its best, you
get to watch history close up – so close in fact, you’re almost on the
Ben Brown
BBC special correspondent
A diploma from the “school of
life” is the best place to prepare yourself for journalism. Don’t get
me wrong, a decent degree is just as crucial, but if you’ve got one
without the other, don’t bother applying.
And by “decent degree” I mean real
subjects…French, history, politics…subjects that bend your brain,
not a media course that teaches you how to get a job in the media.
Good journalists are interested in life. They’ve
travelled, they’ve got quirky private passions. And they’ve got proof
of their determination to succeed. Experience, whether on a student
newspaper or a local radio station, is priceless.
So if you’ve got your degree, you’ve got the
photos from your gap-year in the Gobi desert, and you’re on the way to
saving the endangered Madagascan pond heron, you’ll probably get an
interview. But what then?
Live and breathe news in the days leading up to
the interview. Read the papers, listen to the radio, watch all the news
Have an opinion about the stories, and about the
way they’ve been covered. Bring ideas, challenge the conventional
wisdom that sets into every news operation, make your mark. If you come
armed with thoughts, observations and ideas, you can fill the time
talking about what YOU want to say, rather than responding to questions
that may expose your gaps.
Deborah Turness,
Editor ITV News
My top tip for becoming a journalist is ….
Don’t. Well, that’s not quite right, but almost. Don’t even think about
becoming a journalist if what you want is fame. If appearing on the
telly or being recognised on the street is driving you towards
journalism then you are making a huge mistake.
Only think seriously about becoming a journalist
– especially on television – if what drives you is something different:
the urge to communicate, the insatiable curiosity to find things out,
to satisfy your own and – you hope – your audience’s curiosity; the
relentless ambition to look at stereotypes about people and events and
question them or turn them inside out.
Once you have determined that these are the
impulses which drive you, then do not give up. I was rejected by the
BBC graduate training scheme. Twice.
I was repeatedly told it was impossible to get
onto the newspaper scheme I eventually started with, and then was told
it was again impossible to get into the BBC without “knowing someone.”
Don’t believe conventional wisdom. Persistence
plus imagination will get you a job as a journalist. Imagination
without persistence will get you nothing.
Gavin Esler
BBC Newsnight presenter
The two keys to breaking into online journalism are the same you
need to get on in any branch of the industry – qualifications and
While I found my time at university helped me
develop and decide what I wanted to do with my life, a degree isn’t
necessary. An NCTJ qualification almost certainly is.
There are many different journalism and media
courses out there, but the NCTJ is the only one every single editor
recognises as giving you a basic grounding in writing, reporting, media
law, public affairs and shorthand.
Even more important than getting the right piece
of paper is gaining the experience to prove to a prospective boss that
you’ve got a good eye for a news story, feature idea or interview line
– even if you have to work for free.
Only when you’ve enhanced your skills and CV,
should you start to specialise in online.
Pick a site that you genuinely enjoy reading to contact for work
experience and/or shift work and brush up on your computing skills so
you’re not fazed by any internal production systems.
My final piece of advice would be to never
underestimate the importance of making friends and contacts – after all
there’s no point being a great journalist if no one knows that you
Simon Rothstein
DomSun Online
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